Torquay's on the up but what is still missing from the Town Centre?

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(Last Updated On: January 6, 2015)

What is the plan for Torquay’s town centre? And how will the redevelopments help to regenerate and revitalise the shopping experience so many people in Torquay chose to avoid?

Well, we hope to address a few of the issues, some of which are unavoidable and some caused by sheer ignorance. A few of the issues that the town centre suffers from are quite easily avoidable by restructuring the way the council choses to make its money.

Of course in an ideal world, the town wouldn’t rely solely on the council to make business effecting decisions on their behalf. But unfortunately this is the case and there is little we can do about it unless business owners and townsfolk band together and make a change.

The town suffers badly compared to 10 years ago, businesses chose to leave the town to seek more suitable and more importantly cheaper premises like the famed ‘out of town’ shopping plaza, The Willows, which we are all guilty of travelling too, in an effort to avoid the town centre.

The reasons behind why we leave the town centre for ‘Out Of Town’ shopping estates is simple. Parking & Choice. So why is parking been so taxing on the town and how has it shaped the way people shop?

Town Centres are outdated, the way the government asks for the rates is aggressive and needs reform but seeing as though this doesn’t look like it’s any where near preparation for change, there has to be a fix for bringing people back to the town, right?

Of course, there is a simple answer to that question and that is to change the way car parks demand silly prices for parking, and the way rash parking tickets are distributed by our friendly council workers. It’s not all doom and gloom however, the council have done their bit over the years, offering the £2 all day parking and other schemes to try and bring back the punters. Sadly this hasn’t worked, one shop owner described the town as “an abysmal excuse of a town centre for such a picturesque, thriving place”. Another business owner described the council meetings he attended regularly as “attentive but banal and depraved, no one seems to want to help, regardless of the countless times a problem is mentioned.”

So where do we stand with the parking? Well, it’s expensive, there’s no reasonable short stay tariff in place and most people would prefer to park where it’s free, leaving almost empty car parks on a daily basis. In December of 2014 we interviewed some of the Torquay townsfolk, of which 95 percent prefer to shop elsewhere due to the appalling parking prices.

So why don’t the council drop the prices? It’s simple. Money. The council is effectively run like a business, they’re allocated money by the government and they have to be vigilant when it comes to spending, of course they have to accrue earning too and that means doing whatever necessary to keep the books evenly balanced. So, in short, the council needs to keep on top of the earnings in order to stay afloat and to make that happen we have to suffer.

The town centre then is a shopping hub and nothing more, choice is limited and the reasons behind that are evident.

For example, take the building listed below. It’s a large outlet which has been vacant for a while, but why isn’t it being snapped up? Well, the rent is great, it’s cheap for what it is at only £35,000 per annum and it’s in a great part of town.

The answer is it’s rateable value or it’s ‘Rates’. Rateable value is the value given on a premises by the Valuation Office Agency, which is based on its probable annual market rent. These values are reviewed every five years and take the size of the property and its usage into consideration, in addition different parts of the premises may be valued at different levels.

The rateable value for this property is £78,000! Wow! bringing the total rent and rate figure up to £113,000 which is barmy!

Rates.

The business rates are paid by the business owners for the premises they rent from their landlords. However, if the premises is empty and there is no tenant in the building, the landlord is required by law to pay the business rates. This puts potential businesses in a powerful position as it allows strong negotiations for discounted rent. Landlords are more than willing to allow initiatives like *First year free* or *half rent for 2 years* so that the rates are paid as an empty building is damaging to a landlords pocket. A common misconception is that landlords are charging extortionate prices for rent within the town centre which is correct in some ways but mostly untrue as landlords are struggling to keep their premises occupied.

 

It is worth mentioning that although the council can offer rate relief schemes for new businesses and help with saving money with business rates, it is not the council who acrue earning for rates, but rather the central government.

ELC

 

Out of town shopping centres commonly have cheaper rates, the outlets are not classed as first class retail buildings so do not require such massive rate tariffs. You can begin to see why large companies prefer to set up business out of the town centre.

This still doesn’t address the lack of choice and competition in the high street, correct it doesn’t, that is because there isn’t any!

Take a look at what is in the willows, Marks and Spencers and Outfit, a combination store of 4 previous Torquay town centre stores. All these stores were all high street stores until recently when the rent on all the stores premises came to a close.

Upon reflection then, it is easy to understand where the choice has disappeared too and why the town needs improving from the back end and not from the front end. Businesses need incentives to open new stores in the high street and there are far too many reasons to avoid it.

Redevelopments, revitalisation & Regeneration.

Will the proposed redevelopments for the towns centres GPO roundabout be the turning point for the high street? From a business point of view the answer is no, from an aesthetics point of view yes. It can be looked at then, as a start for regenerating an old, run down part of the towns dying business haven.

The town still needs a whole lot doing in order to bring back the big guns, the main players in the high street retail battle. Let’s not forget those sole traders and small business owners who grace our town too, we wouldn’t have a character nor a town atmosphere without them. These are the businesses which have been able to make a difference by staying open through hard times by providing a service which large high street retailing giants just cannot. Honorary mentions – Light Options, Dot’s Pantry and Seconds Out – some of which have been around for over 30 years. 

Roundup

How to round this article up then, from a business point of view, there are many reasons why opening a shop in Torquay’s high street is a great idea – The opportunities for locals to apply for new jobs, the opportunity for money and a chance to grab a bargain at the landlords expense.

To bluntly end on a low would be unjust and unfunny, so below I have taken time to create a useful place to help me on my mission in 2015 to make change in Torquay’s Town!

To finish up this review on Torquay’s Town Centre I would like to personally mention that although this entire article is a visual interpretation of my knowledge and a collection of data and statistics, it is also a personal interest of mine.

Welcome to my personal mission of 2015, the year WE will use the social tools available to make change!

If you really care about the place you live in and it’s future, you will join me in creating the next revolution, a stepping stone to forming a newly documented time in our lives where the minority become the priority.

My new page is: HERE

You can follow me on twitter or add me on Facebook if you have any question below using the links.

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Thank you for your support and please don’t forget to have your say on our Facebook page, on our twitter or leave us a sneaky comment on this article!

If you think we missed anything, please message the page on Facebook.

(DISCLAIMER – All business owners referenced in this article wished to remain anonymous)

 

Jack. 21 years old. Journalist for We Are South Devon and an extrovert.